A significant barrier to eliminating parental alienation continues to rear its ugly head in some quarters, regardless of all the research documenting that both mothers and fathers can be either the alienator or the target parent. It is residue from an obsolete gender warfare left over from the past.
Following is one typical scenario from the 1970’s or before, illustrating how the gender warfare started.
Alienation is Perpetrated, Then Charges Filed
The custodial mother alienates the children from their father, who financially supports her and the children, so she can exclude the father from her life except for the financial support.
With the recognition and naming of parental alienation syndrome in the mid-1980’s, attorneys for fathers began to identify parental alienation to use as a defense for fathers wanting to maintain contact with their children.
Alienation by mothers was prevalent when the “tender years” doctrine governed child custody policy, based on the belief that young children belong with the mother because they need her nurturing most. With a better understanding of child development in recent years, we now know that children need both parents equally and the tender years doctrine has been replaced by “the best interest of the child” in determining custody arrangements.
Alienation is Labeled Fake
The defense mounted by attorneys for the mother alienators was that parental alienation is not real; that it is a ploy dreamed up to force mothers to allow the unwanted father into the lives of “their” children.
Today women make up half of the workforce, and there is now a growing legal philosophy based on a standard of 50-50 custody. Men and women now share more equally both responsibilities: direct care giving and financial support of their children. Research clearly demonstrates that parental alienation is perpetrated by both men and women today.
Counter Attack: Child Abuse
In addition to saying parental alienation does not exist, sometimes a false accusation of child abuse/sexual abuse may be used used to keep the other parent at bay.
It is a common belief that in the U.S. (and other countries as well) the accused must be considered innocent until proven guilty. However, because courts have as top priority assuring the well-being of young children, this does NOT include family court. Rather, in the case of child abuse accusations the accused parent is prohibited from contact or unsupervised contact until the accused is proven innocent. Due to the long investigative period and the backlog of courts, this can take years. When the accusation of child abuse is used as a tool in perpetuating the alienation, with the court requiring that the child live with the alienator and forbidding or highly restricting contact with the target parent.
When mothers or fathers are caught in this vicious web, it is easy to see how gender bias could be perceived to be the cause of a grave injustice.
The challenge today is for clear heads to come together: overcome the obsolete thinking of past gender wars so all people who care about children can come together to recognize and address both parental alienation and other forms of child abuse. Early assessment and timely treatment and follow-up are critical to eliminate both parental alienation and other child abuse.
Learn about the Five Factor Model for early assessment by reading my book, From Heartbreak to Healing: Resolving Parental Alienation. Developed by leading parental alienation experts, this tool is a straightforward way for courts, working with mental health and legal experts specifically trained to identify parental alienation, to use in determining the truth in this complex form of family dysfunction.